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Utility works on user-friendly, 'smart' apps

February 06, 2013|By Brittany Levine, brittany.levine@latimes.com

While Glendale Water & Power prepares to cap off the back-end work of its years-long transition to smart meters, officials plan to create Web and mobile applications so customers can take advantage of the new technology more easily within the next year and a half.

Utility commissioners said during a meeting this week that the applications have been a long time coming. .

“We have yet to show some tangible benefits back to the customer so they can touch and feel this investment,” Commission President Zanku Armenian said.

The $70-million project to convert Glendale’s roughly 120,000 water and electric meters into devices that can transmit data digitally in near real time is winding down, but there’s still about $5 million to spend by March 2014.

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The city received $21 million in federal and state grants for the project, and the deadline, which was extended by a year, was imposed by the U.S. Department of Energy.

The final millions may be spent on updating computer systems to efficiently read the transmitted data as well as preparing online and mobile applications that customers can use to better understand their energy use.

However, which projects move forward depend on City Council approval during the budgeting process for next fiscal year, said Craig Kuennen, the utility's business transformation and marketing administrator.

A smart thermostat program that tracks air-conditioning use and costs is one of the first programs that may come online in the coming months, Kuennen said.

Glendale Water & Power is also testing a digital photo frame that shows energy and water use on an easy-to-read display, but the utility plans to host focus groups with the 72 customers who have been using the display before expanding the pilot program and setting prices on the service.

An online portal where customers can track their energy use is still in the works and may be integrated into a new website the city is planning to launch, Kuennen said.

Last month, the utility began billing all of its customers directly through the smart meters. Previously, the utility had been using meter readers to manually report electricity and water use in addition to receiving the digital reads to ensure the system worked accurately.

An outspoken but small group of critics has long complained about the smart meters, contending their electronic transmissions make them sick.

Opponents were allowed to have their transmissions turned off, but it costs $35 to $56 a month. Thirty-five customers have signed up for that option, according to utility officials.

Of the roughly 120,000 meters, 88 are struggling to communicate wirelessly because of their locations. Two out of the utility’s original 10 meter readers continue to perform part of their former jobs, but they will soon transition to other tasks.

Some of the former meter readers took an early retirement option when the entire city downsized staff last year. Others have already moved to other jobs within the utility.

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Follow Brittany Levine on Google+ and on Twitter: @brittanylevine.

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